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Newsline - February 5, 1999




MISDEEDS OF CENTRAL BANK DETAILED

Details from former Prosecutor-General Yurii Skuratov's report of his investigation into activities of the Russian Central Bank finally emerged on 4 February. According to the report, the bank allowed a tiny offshore firm in the Channel Island of Jersey to manage roughly $50 billion of its currency reserves over five years and to charge allegedly illegal commissions, Interfax reported. In addition, the report said that bank officials sold federal property, such as real estate and cars, without the permission of the State Property Fund and used official bank credit cards with monthly credit limits of $5,000-$15,000 to purchase personal items. The bank also used 600 million rubles ($25 million at the current exchange rate) from its 1997 profits for a special social fund for employees. The "Moscow Times" on 5 January quoted an anonymous Central Bank official as saying that "current accusations may be based on unprofessional conclusions." JAC

BUDGET PASSAGE PREDICTED

As the State Duma began the fourth and final reading of the 1999 budget on 5 February, both Duma deputies and government officials were predicting the budget's smooth passage. The previous day, the Duma's Budget Committee recommended the current draft be approved. More important was Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's agreement to accept the government's proposal to reduce spending on the presidential administration by 20 percent rather than 40 percent, as stipulated during the budget's last reading. When passed, the budget will be forwarded to the Federation Council, which is also expected to approve it quickly. JAC

AEROFLOT OFFICES SEARCHED

Investigators from the Prosecutor- General's Office on 4-5 February searched offices of Aeroflot and several of companies with which it contracts work as part of its continuing investigation into allegations that Boris Berezovskii authorized the installation of illegal electronic listening devices in President Boris Yeltsin's office and home. Berezovskii reportedly owns a large stake in Aeroflot Investigators are also searching for evidence of "illegal entrepreneurial activity," according to Interfax. On 5 February, the Aeroflot board of directors dismissed four senior vice presidents. JAC

SUPREME COURT PROLONGS NIKITIN CASE

At a closed hearing on 4 February, the Supreme Court decided to return the espionage case of environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin for further investigation, turning down an appeal by Nikitin's lawyers to dismiss the case. Nikitin told reporters after the ruling that he is worried that the additional investigation "will last forever." The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights denounced the decision, arguing that the court ignored one of the most fundamental principles of criminal proceedings, that the defendant should be presumed innocent. Nikitin is charged with including classified materials in a report on Russia's Northern Fleet prepared for the Norwegian-based Bellona Foundation. JAC

RUSSIA POISED TO TURN OFF ENERGY SPIGOT TO NEIGHBORS

Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov told cabinet members on 4 February that other CIS countries owe Russia more than $600 million for fuel and energy. He argued that "a kind of moratorium" on further supplies should be imposed while talks on debt repayment are held. Regarding the chronic fuel shortages to the regions in Russia's Far North, Primakov suggested that the problem "must be lifted from the shoulders of government" and competitive tenders to transport fuel should be held among commercial firms, ITAR- TASS reported. JAC

START-II ON HOLD UNTIL FUNDING FOR NUCLEAR FORCES ALLOCATED

In an interview with the military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" on 2 February, State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich of Our Home Is Russia said that the Duma must first adopt the law on financing Russia's strategic nuclear forces until 2010 before it can turn to the issue of ratification of the START II treaty. Popkovich admitted that if the Duma were to ratify the treaty, there would be no money in the 1999 budget for implementation and probably none would be available for "the next two or three years." Popkovich added that Russia is already "spending too much on the liquidation of armaments under previous agreements and treaties." JAC

LACK OF CASH DICTATES MORE CUTS IN ARMED FORCES

The size of the army and navy must be reduced by two times if the government is going to be able to fully fund them, according to a Defense Ministry report on funding the armed forces until 2000, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 February. Under the report's pessimistic scenario, if Russia experiences annual rates of economic growth of 0.5-1.5 percent, then it will be possible only to fully finance an "Army numbering 550,000 to 600,000." Even if the Russian economy manages to grow by 8-10 percent a year, the Defense Ministry would not receive adequate financing for the army's present size until 2004-2005. JAC

ANOTHER POPULATION DECLINE RECORDED

Russia's population dipped by 401,000 or 0.3 percent in 1998 compared with the previous year, according to a preliminary estimate by the State Statistics Committee, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. In 1997, the population also fell by 0.3 percent. As of 1 January, 146 million people lived in Russia. JAC

WORLD BANK CHECKS UP ON COAL LOAN

World Bank officials arrived in Kemerovo Oblast on 3 February to try to find out what happened with monies disbursed to local organizations under the coal- sector loan, "Izvestiya" reported. The money had been earmarked for the creation of new jobs for unemployed coal miners. According to the newspaper, bank officials wanted to see with their own eyes exactly how money had been spent before they began negotiations with Moscow on further installments. World Bank Country Director of Russia Michael Carter had warned earlier that the bank might suspend further installments of its coal loan, unless it receives clarification of the Russian government's plans for the coal sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 1999). JAC

NIZHNII NOVGOROD MAKING LIFE DIFFICULT FOR BUSINESS?

The Nizhnii Novogorod municipal authorities have increased rents for business premises, prompting protests among angry local business owners, according to the "EWI Russian Regional Report" of 4 February. Special breaks have been announced for businesses that serve municipal needs, companies offering social services, and exporters. But according to the report, this means that some businesses will have to pay up to 11 times more than previously. Locals now fear spiraling retail prices, coming on the heels of a newly introduced 5 percent sales tax and hikes in petroleum products and utilities. A similar rent hike introduced by the St. Petersburg authorities last year resulted in many bankruptcies of small businesses and failed to increase municipal revenues, the report points out. JC

VLADIVOSTOK LOCALS CONTINUING TO BACK FORMER MAYOR

The Supreme Court on 4 February rejected former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov's suit against President Yeltsin's decree removing him from office, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 1998). The previous day, "Segodnya" reported that some residents in Vladivostok formed an association for the protection of voters' rights and sent a telegram to Moscow demanding the resignations of top officials of Vladivostok's Internal Affairs Department and Prosecutor-General's Office as well as the abolition of krai and municipal election committees. According to the newspaper, a local theater capable of holding 300 people was jammed at the association's inaugural conference. "Izvestiya" suggested that the next local elections would likely result in a city assembly that was even more strongly in favor of Cherepkov than before. JAC

PRESIDENT OF TATARSTAN HOSPITALIZED

Mintimer Shaimiev was admitted to hospital on 1 February suffering from high blood pressure, ITAR-TASS reported three days later. RFE/RL's Kazan bureau quoted the presidential press service as saying that Shaimiev's condition is "stable" but that his doctors have advised him to remain in hospital under observation for two weeks. Shaimiev celebrated his 62nd birthday on 20 January. LF

KOVALYOV REFUSING TO EAT JAIL FOOD

Former Justice Minister Valentin Kovalyov, who was arrested on 3 February told Russian Television, the next day that he is going on a hunger strike to protest not being allowed to contact his lawyers. Kovalyov is charged with embezzling $50,000 and the illegal possession of firearms, Interfax reported. He was sacked from the Justice Ministry in July 1997, after a videotape of him frolicking with naked women in a sauna was aired on national newscasts. JAC

'MIR' EXPERIMENT CANCELED

The reflective screen that cosmonauts on the space station "Mir" tried to unfurl on 4 February got caught in an antenna, dpa reported. Meanwhile, unaware that the experiment had failed, residents of Karaganda, Kazakhstan, assembled on the city streets at 8.04 p.m. local time that day to witness the station's "sunbeam," ITAR-TASS reported. The next day, Mission Control Center in Moscow decided against conducting the experiment again. JAC

MIXED REACTION TO CHECHNYA'S INTRODUCTION OF ISLAMIC LAW

Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev called on those Russian agencies responsible for the North Caucasus to determine precisely how President Aslan Maskhadov's 3 February decree imposing Shariah law in Chechnya will be interpreted and implemented, Russian agencies reported. Seleznev added that violations of the Russian Constitution in Chechnya "should be taken for granted." Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov commented that Maskhadov's decision has brought him far "closer to the extremist forces which he had actively opposed in the past." Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev interpreted Maskhadov's decree as a preemptive move intended to prevent the spread of "extremist forms of Islam" in Chechnya, according to Interfax. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed observed that "Chechens have never been radical believers," and he advocated trusting Maskhadov's judgement. Lebed and Maskhadov signed the 1997 agreements ending the war in Chechnya. LF




COUNCIL OF EUROPE DELEGATION VISITS ARMENIA

Armenian President Robert Kocharian assured a fact-finding mission from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 3 February that Armenia is committed to democracy and complete freedom of the press, speech, belief, and political activity, Noyan Tapan and Interfax reported. Presidential spokesman Vahe Gabrielian told journalists on 3 February that a Human Rights Watch report arguing that Armenia should not be granted full membership in the Council of Europe was based on inaccurate statistics. He added that the report, which cited widespread and egregious human rights violations, had exaggerated the incidence of such occurrences, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 1999). A member of the PACE delegation was quoted in the Armenian press as saying that a decision on whether to grant Armenia to full membership in the Council of Europe will be contingent on the fairness and transparency of the parliamentary elections tentatively scheduled for May. LF

AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER IN PARIS

Meeting in Paris on 2 February, Tofik Zulfugarov and his French counterpart, Hubert Vedrine, discussed ongoing efforts to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, which Vedrine said undermines the region's potential for development. The two ministers also agreed to hold regular consultations on security issues and discussed the potential for expanding economic ties, Turan reported. Zulfugarov discussed the latter issue in greater depth with Foreign Trade Secretary Jacques Dondoux, focusing on aeronautics, telecommunications, and infrastructure development. LF

MOSCOW WANTS TO EXPEDITE SOLUTION TO ABKHAZ CONFLICT

Speaking at the CIS Foreign Ministers' meeting in Moscow on 4 February, Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of progress towards a negotiated settlement of the Abkhaz conflict, Russian agencies reported. He noted the "enormous difficulties" dogging the peace negotiations, and stressed Russia's interest in expediting a settlement. Also on 4 February, Caucasus Press summarized the results of a poll conducted among Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia that revealed 83 percent of those questioned will not return to their homes until Georgian jurisdiction over Abkhazia is restored. Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba has offered to allow all Georgian displaced persons from Gali Raion to return to their homes beginning 1 March. He has also created a government commission to ensure adequate economic and security conditions in the region. LF

SIX CIS STATES AFFIRM READINESS TO PROLONG SECURITY TREATY

At the CIS foreign ministers' meeting in Moscow on 4 February, the representatives of Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan said their countries will extend their participation in the CIS Collective Security Treaty beyond the April expiry date, Interfax reported, quoting Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Georgia will also do so after unspecified amendments are made to the treaty, Ivanov added. Speaking in Baku the same day, Azerbaijani presidential adviser Vafa Guluzade hinted that Azerbaijan should consider not extending its participation because the treaty failed to end Armenia's aggression against its fellow CIS state Azerbaijan, Turan reported. LF

UZBEKISTAN CLARIFIES POSTION ON SECURITY AGREEMENTS...

The Uzbek Foreign Ministry released a statement on 4 February clarifying the country's position on security agreements, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement confirmed that Uzbekistan will not renew its membership in the CIS Collective Security Treaty. But it added that "this position has no relationship to bilateral agreements on cooperation with the Russian Federation and other states of the Commonwealth." It also states that such relationships "will develop on the basis of generally accepted norms of international law, mutually advantageous cooperation, mutual respect, and non-interference in each other's internal affairs." BP

...WHILE RUSSIA SEEMS UNCONCERNED

Russian Minister for CIS Affairs Boris Pastukhov said on 4 February that it is pointless to "overdramatize" Uzbekistan's decision not to renew its participation in the CIS Collective Security Treaty, Interfax reported. Pastukhov said "all of the CIS's agencies and organizations are established on a voluntary basis," adding that "it is the sovereign right of a every state...to make a decision which it considers to be necessary." Pastukhov said he personally has heard nothing from the Uzbek side on the issue. BP

TAJIKISTAN FORMS SPECIAL MILITARY UNIT

Following UN representatives' criticism about the lack of progress on integrating United Tajik Opposition units into the government forces, the press center of the Reconciliation Commission announced on 4 February that a special rapid reaction force combining government and opposition fighters will be formed, Interfax reported. The unit will be used to combat illegal paramilitary formations still present in Tajikistan. BP

HUMAN RIGHTS WORKER DEPORTED FROM TURKMENISTAN

Aleksandr Petrov from the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch was deported from Turkmenistan on 3 February, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Petrov was part of a four-man team that arrived in Turkmenistan on 29 January to evaluate the human rights situation there. After two members of the team departed on other business, officers from Turkmenistan's National Security Committee came to Petrov's hotel room, accused him of possessing material that threatened the country's security, and asked him to return to Moscow. Petrov told RFE/RL upon his return that the "offending" materials were earlier reports about human rights in Turkmenistan. BP

EBRD CRITICIZES IMPORT RESTRICTIONS IN KAZAKHSTAN

An economist for the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Martin Raisner, told a news conference in Almaty on 4 February that Kazakhstan should not restrict imports and should stop giving direct support to industrial and agricultural companies, Interfax reported. Raisner said restrictions would reduce competition and proposed instead that tariffs be regulated to promote competition. Raisner also said farming and industrial companies should be left to fend for themselves but that the EBRD is prepared to issue loans and offer technical aid and consultation to these companies. Raisner acknowledged that 1999 will be a difficult year for Kazakhstan, but he praised the monetary and lending policies of the country's National Bank, saying the EBRD sees no danger that Kazakhstan will default on its debts. BP

U.S. DIPLOMAT TOURS CENTRAL ASIA

A delegation from the U.S. State Department, led by senior department official Ross Wilson, arrived in Ashgabat on 4 February for talks with the Turkmen leadership, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The topic under discussion was implementing energy projects in the Caspian Basin, including the Trans-Caspian pipeline project. Companies participating in that project are due to be announced in Ashgabat on 19 February. Wilson promised his country would help mediate a dispute between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over Caspian oil fields to which both countries lay claim. Wilson was also in Kyrgyzstan on 1-2 February, where he promised officials that the U.S. will recommend that the IMF extend further loans to the country. Wilson also visited Uzbekistan, but there is no information on that visit. BP




PUSTOVOYTENKO HOPEFUL OF CONTINUED IMF MONEY

Ukrainian Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko said in Kyiv on 4 February that his talks with IMF officials in Washington will allow the continuation of its loan to Ukraine, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Presidential economic adviser Valeriy Lytvytskyy, who accompanied Pustovoytenko on his Washington visit, in which talks took place with IMF, World Bank, and U.S. officials, said that the next tranche of Ukraine's $2.2 billion, three-year loan may be drawn in early March. But he said it depends on whether government implements a series of budget and reform measures. Ukraine has said it may have to default on its foreign-debt payments if it fails to garner enough financing. The same day, the government ordered the mandatory conversion of treasury bills maturing this month. The Ukrainian News Agency said the order applied to some 200 million hryvni ($58 million) worth of bonds. PB

UKRAINE TO BUILD PIPELINE FOR GAZPROM

Ukraine's state oil and gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy, agreed to pay off part of its debt to Russian gas giant Gazprom by building a pipeline for it, AP reported on 4 February. Naftogaz chairman Ihor Bakay said the 555-kilometer pipeline will run between the southern Ukrainian towns of Ananyv and Ismayl and will reportedly cost $250 million. It will be used by Gazprom to export gas to Western Europe. Bakay said Ukraine gets about 70 percent of its gas from Gazprom, and it owes the Russian company about $1.1 billion. Bakay vowed that the debt will not increase in 1999. PB

BELARUSIAN BUDGET APPROVED IN SECOND READING

The lower house of the parliament has approved the 1999 draft budget in the second reading, Belapan reported on 4 February. Alyaksandr Zinchenko, the chairman of the Committee on Budget and Finance, said budget revenues are projected at some 448.3 trillion rubles ($15.7 million) and expenditures at 414.8 trillion rubles. He said expenditures on education have been increased by 883 billion rubles, health by 800 billion rubles, and the media by 276 billion rubles. He said inflation is expected to reach between 90-100 percent. PB

ESTONIA WANTS TO RETAIN BALTIC FREE TRADE EVEN AFTER EU ENTRY

Paul Lettens, adviser to Premier Mart Siimann, says that Estonia wants to retain its free trade agreements with its Baltic neighbors and with Ukraine after it joins the EU, ETA reported on 4 February. Estonia expressed that position to the EU last week. Lettens noted that Tallinn is prepared to give up all other agreements with third countries that are not in accordance with EU norms but would like exceptions to be made for those with Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine. The request is based on the assumption that the three countries will also become members of the union. JC

VEIDEMANN TO STEP DOWN TEMPORARILY AS PARTY LEADER

Nationalities Minister Andra Veidemann has announced that she intends to step down as chairwoman of the Progressive Party until after the general elections, ETA reported on 4 February. That announcement follows press reports that the Progressive Party's board intends to expel eight members of the party who have decided to run in the elections on the list of the Country People's Party. Veidemann, who has queried the legality of such a move, urged that an extraordinary party congress be convened after the election to resolve internal differences. JC

LATVIAN AGRICULTURAL MINISTER APPROVED

The parliament on 4 February voted by 66 to 21 with four abstentions to approve the appointment of Social Democrat Peteris Salkazanovs as agricultural minister. The previous day, Prime Minister Vilis Kristopans and the head of the Social Democrats' caucus, Egils Baldzens, signed a cooperation agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). Under that agreement, the Social Democrats have pledged their support for such key votes as the second and final reading of the 1999 state budget, expected to take place later this month or in early March. JC

LATVIA MOVES TOWARD ABOLITION OF DEATH PENALTY

By 73 to 16 with one abstention, lawmakers on 4 February voted to approve in the first reading a bill ratifying the Sixth Protocol of the European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, which provides for the abolition of the death penalty, LETA and "Diena" reported. Among those who voted against were the Social Democrats and several deputies from the Fatherland and Freedom party and the New Party. Latvia signed the sixth protocol in June 1998, but the same month the parliament adopted a new penal code that retained capital punishment. A moratorium on executions, imposed by President Guntis Ulmanis, has been in place since September 1996. JC

RUSSIAN SUPPLIES OF CRUDE FOR LITHUANIA TO RESUME?

Economy Minister Vincas Babilius, speaking in the parliament on 4 February, predicted that Russian supplies of crude oil to the Mazeikiai Nafta refinery will resume on 5 February, LETA reported. Babilius said he expects the oil to start flowing to Mazeikiai after pipeline repairs in Belarus have been completed. According to the news agency, the Belarusian oil supply company Druzba decided earlier this week to take advantage of the halt in oil supplies to Lithuania to undertake such repairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). Babilius told LETA that "according to information we possess, everybody who theoretically and practically could hinder crude deliveries to Mazeikiai [has] already declared that they...[did not] and would not in the future." JC

ROADBLOCKS REMOVED, TALKS RESUME IN POLAND

Protesting farmers dismantled hundreds of roadblocks and government officials and farmers' union leaders began talks on 4 February, AP reported. Andrzej Lepper called for the roadblocks to be removed for 12 hours in order for talks to resume. His request came shortly after police were ordered to begin breaking up the roadblocks by force, if necessary. Labor Minister Longin Komolowski and Agriculture Minister Jacek Janiszewski are leading the talks for the government. Komolowski said negotiations may be lengthy because the problems are "complicated and have grown over many years." Farmers are seeking higher prices for their goods and immunity from prosecution in connection with the protests. They are opposed to reforms needed to join the EU. A poll by the daily "Rzeczpospolita" showed that 78 percent of Poles agreed with the farmers' protest and 76 percent blamed the government for the affair. PB

GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER PROMISES 'INTENSIVE' COOPERATION WITH POLAND

Rudolf Scharping said in Warsaw on 4 February that military cooperation between Poland and Germany will be "intensive as never before," PAP reported. Scharping met with his Polish counterpart, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, and Premier Jerzy Buzek to discuss preparations for NATO membership and bilateral cooperation. Scharping also promised Poland technical assistance in adapting Polish planes to NATO standards and discussed cooperation between the arms industries in the two countries. PB

CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS CARRYING OUT DISTRICT GOVERNMENT PURGE?

Jitka Seitlova, who heads the group of Senators belonging to the Freedom Union and Civic Democratic Alliance, said in Prague on 5 February that the recent dismissals of several heads of district administrations suggests that the governing Social Democrats intend to place their own loyalists in those jobs. Seitlova argued that "a head of a district office is not a politician but a civil servant. Politicizing the state administration leads to corruption and manipulation of the law. I am afraid that the government's decision [to remove the administrators] will not be the last one." She cited examples of widely respected district officials who had been sacked, CTK reported. PM

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT TO TAKE BACK COMPANIES

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda announced on 3 February that his government has begun taking the first legal steps to re-nationalize key companies that the former administration of Vladimir Meciar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) privatized, "Sme" reported on 5 February. Dzurinda told the Bratislava daily that he and his colleagues are determined to undo the legacy of the Meciar years and that they have already made progress in the 99 days that they have been in office. The first major company that the government seeks to take back is Nafta Gbely. The privatizations have been widely criticized in Slovakia and abroad as a means by which Meciar enriched both himself and HZDS loyalists. PM

HUNGARIAN, GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS KOSOVO CRISIS

NATO forces would rather use Macedonian airports than Hungarian ones in a possible military intervention in Kosova, visiting German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping told reporters in Budapest on 4 February. At a joint press conference with his Hungarian counterpart, Janos Martonyi, Scharping said Germany might be involved in upgrading Hungary's MiG-29 fighter jets. In other news, Zsolt Nemeth, political state secretary at the Foreign Ministry, said Hungary wishes to open new consulates in Kosice, Slovakia, Subotica, Yugoslavia, and in eastern Transylvania, Hungarian media reported on 5 February. MSZ

HUNGARY CONSIDERS GRANTING ASYLUM TO KOSOVA ALBANIANS

The parliament's human rights committee has asked the cabinet to examine the possibility of granting temporary asylum in Hungary for Kosova Albanians, Hungarian media reported. The request was made following a 3 January proposal by Stefan Berglund, the Budapest representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Members of the committee said that Hungary, as a country close to joining the EU, can ask international organizations to help with the refugee problem. The Interior Ministry announced that a cabinet report on dealing with poor conditions at detention centers has been completed. MSZ




CLINTON WEIGHS SENDING TROOPS TO KOSOVA

President Bill Clinton said in Washington on 4 February that he is prepared to send ground troops to Kosova if a settlement is reached. He argued that "the Balkans are an explosive area. They touch other difficult areas, and unless we can contain and ultimately defuse the ethnic hatreds in that region, they can embroil us...in a much larger conflict.... The time to stop [the Kosova] conflict...is now, before it spreads and when it can be contained at an acceptable cost. If a settlement is reached, a NATO presence on the ground...could prove essential in giving both sides the confidence they need to pull back from their fight. If that happens we are seriously considering the possibility of our participation in such a force. We are discussing it now with Congress and our allies, but no decision has been reached," he concluded (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). PM

ALBANIA PLEDGES BACKING FOR NATO FORCE

Albanian Prime Minister Pandeli Majko discussed the Balkan crisis with Clinton in Washington on 4 February. The Albanian leader said that "if NATO comes to a decision to be present on the ground in Kosova, the Albanian government has given the authority that all air or port facilities, including all the necessary infrastructure that Albania has,...will be at the disposal of NATO troops to fulfill their mission." Speaking of his four-month-old government's record, he noted that "we've been working very hard, and we're seeing the first results of our hard work," AP reported. He said that his main successes have been winning approval for the new constitution and state budget, beginning to breach the gap between the governing Socialists and the Democratic-led opposition, and encouraging the various Kosovar factions to agree on a joint political platform. PM

ALBANIAN PARTIES BACK RAMBOUILLET TALKS

Participants in an Albanian multi-party round-table in Tirana on 4 February urged all Kosovar political groups, including the UCK, to take part in the peace talks on Kosova, which are slated to begin on 6 February in Rambouillet, near Paris (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999). The round-table concluded that NATO must send ground troops to Kosova to back any interim agreement there, "Koha Jone" reported. The parties also agreed to hold a large joint rally in Tirana on 5 February in support of a political solution for the conflict. The center-right Republican Party sponsored the round-table, whose participants include the Socialists and Democrats. FS

SERBIA TO SEND DELEGATION TO RAMBOUILLET

The Serbian parliament voted by 227 to three on 4 February to participate in the peace conference. Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic told the legislators that the West "is knocking on an open door. We remain open to a peaceful solution" of the crisis. But he warned that "solutions are being offered that jeopardize our territorial integrity and sovereignty. [The province] can never be removed from Serbia. It has been part of it for centuries and only there can it stay." The government is expected to name its delegation on 5 February. The Kosovars have already agreed to attend the talks. PM

BOTH SIDES TALK TOUGH IN RUNUP TO CONFERENCE

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Vojislav Seselj told the parliament that if NATO troops want to come to Kosova, they will have to fight their way in, VOA's Serbian Service reported. Speaking in Prishtina, the Kosova Liberation Army's (UCK) spokesman Jakup Krasniqi said that he is "not very optimistic" about the prospects for either reaching a settlement or of ending the fighting. "We are going there to talk about peace and about freedom and independence for Kosova. The war never depended on us, and its continuation will not depend on us." He added that "it is only [the UCK's] military force that has succeeded in raising the question of Kosova to the international level." PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES VETO ON AMNESTY

The legislature voted 79 to 14 on 4 February to approve an amnesty measure, which President Kiro Gligorov recently vetoed (see " RFE/RL Newsline," 25 January 1999). The law ends the jail terms for some 900 persons, including many ethnic Albanians jailed for violating the 1997 law on the public display of national symbols. Among the 900 are the mayors of Gostivar and Tetovo. Observers suggested that passing the bill was part of an agreement under which the Democratic Party of the Albanians agreed to enter the government. PM

BOSNIAN SERB COALITION OPPOSES DJOKIC

The moderate Bosnian Serb coalition Concord issued a statement in Banja Luka on 4 February rejecting President Nikola Poplasen's nomination of Socialist Petar Djokic as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 1999), RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Concord wants incumbent Milorad Dodik to remain in office. Dodik is currently in Washington. PM

CROATIAN OPPOSITION SLAMS STATE-RUN TELEVISION

The coalition of six opposition parties issued a statement in Zagreb on 4 February charging that televised broadcasts of Croatian Radio and Television (HRT) show an increasingly pronounced bias in favor of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). The statement added that HRT often fails to report important stories and portrays the opposition as quarrelsome. Elsewhere, the OSCE issued a report noting that HRT remains "subject to political control" by the HDZ. PM

ZAGREB RECONSIDERING COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE?

Foreign Minister Mate Granic and other top HDZ officials said in the parliament on 4 February that the Hague-based war crimes tribunal devotes a disproportionately large amount of time and attention to prosecuting Croats. Granic added that Croatia has cooperated with the court better than other participants in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. He warned that the government might reconsider cooperation if the court does not take what he called a more balanced approach. PM

SLOVENIA HAS NEW DEFENSE MINISTER

The parliament on 4 February approved Franci Demsar, who is a physicist and belongs to the conservative People's Party, as defense minister. His predecessor, Alojz Krapez, resigned in October over a corruption affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 1998). PM

ALBANIAN COUP ATTEMPT TRIAL OPENS

The trial of monarchist Legality Party member Ekrem Spahia opened in Tirana on 4 February. Spahia is charged with having participated in an alleged coup attempt last September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 1998). Representatives of the OSCE are attending the trial as observers. The charges against Spahia stem from his appearance on television at the time of the attempted coup. After opposition protesters captured the state-run television building, Spahia had announced in the name of the opposition coalition that state "institutions are now in our hands." He also claimed that the then government of Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano had resigned, Klan-TV reported on 4 February. FS

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS MOTION OVER SOCIAL POLICIES

The Chamber of Deputies on 3 February rejected by 116 to 74 a non- binding motion attacking the government's social policies and asking for better protection for laid-off employees, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported. The motion, which was moved by the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, received support from two extreme nationalist formations, the Greater Romania Party and the Party of Romanian National Unity. Premier Radu Vasile told deputies that the document was a "purely electoral initiative, aimed at breaking the ruling coalition." ZSM

SOCIAL DEMOCRATS CONVENE IN BUCHAREST

The Committee for Central and Eastern Europe of the Socialist International convened in Bucharest on 5 February to discuss the EU's eastward expansion, as well as the situation in Kosova and the consequences of the Russian financial crisis, an RFE/RL correspondent reports. Socialist International Secretary-General Luis Ayala said the previous day that Romania's chances of joining European structures would increase if the Social Democrats won the country's next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2000. Ayala singled out the Democratic Party and the Romanian Social Democratic Party as the organization's only "true partners" in Romania. Another prominent participant in the meeting, Hungarian former Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, said that his country is particularly interested in Romania's integration into NATO and the EU. ZSM

NEW MOLDOVAN PREMIER NAMED

President Petru Lucinschi has named Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urecheanu as new prime minister, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported on 5 February. The previous day, parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov appealed to all political parties to show "a maximum of responsibility" since "any actions that might prolong the current period of uncertainty...would further destabilize the situation and could provoke a serious political crisis." The same day, the parliament again approved the law on the social security budget, which Lucinschi had returned in late January. The legislature adopted the law without taking into consideration any of the president's objections. DI




SCANDAL EXPOSES SHADY SIDE OF TER-PETROSSIAN ERA


by Emil Danielyan

One of the key politicians who helped shape the history of post-Soviet Armenia, former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian fled Armenia on 29 January, several days after state prosecutors accused him of murder. He is now rumored to be in Paris. While Siradeghian's supporters say he has gone abroad for medical treatment, his enemies are convinced that he fled to avoid punishment for serious "crimes." Whatever the truth, there are few indications that the formerly powerful and feared minister will voluntarily return home if the Armenian parliament eventually lifts his immunity. And regardless of whether the charges are based on facts--and Siradeghian and other members of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement, which he heads, claim they are not--the Siradeghian affair is another sign of the crumbling legacy of Levon Ter-Petrossian, the country's first post-Soviet president.

The scandal broke on 25 January when Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian told the parliament that Siradeghian should be arrested and put on trial for ordering two police officers murdered five years ago, when he was interior minister. Hovsepian said the officers were shot dead after failing to assassinate an Armenian-born Russian businessman, Serge Jilavian, who was at odds with the former authorities. Hovsepian accused Siradeghian of obstructing the investigation into the two men's disappearance and misleading their relatives. Last summer, investigators found what they said were the officers' remains in a Yerevan suburb.

The main witness in the case is a former interior troops commander, Vahan Harutiunian, who the prosecutors say was instrumental in executing the death orders. Denying the charges, Siradeghian alleged that the arrested ex-commander is "mentally sick" and that his testimony was extracted by force. Siradeghian said the accusations against him signal the start of political "repressions," which, he added, could lead Armenia to "civil war" and ultimately "destruction."

Voting the day after the prosecutor's speech, the parliament refused to allow Siradeghian's prosecution. On 29 January, Prosecutor-General Hovsepian told reporters that he would again ask the parliament to lift Siradeghian's immunity. A few hours later, the former interior minister left Armenia. A question many observers are asking is why the authorities moved against him now. The explanation of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) that President Robert Kocharian wants to "break up the party" ahead of parliamentary elections is hardly credible. The discredited former ruling party (of which Ter-Petrossian was the unofficial leader) is not a serious threat to the present regime. The material self-enrichment of many HHSh leaders against the background of a mostly impoverished population since1991 has engendered a widespread hatred toward the former rulers. And for many people, the flamboyant Siradeghian is the main symbol of an official engaging in corruption with impunity. Lashing out at Siradeghian was therefore bound to boost the dwindling popularity of Kocharian's leadership.

That Kocharian's blow struck home was evidenced by the fact that Ter-Petrossian finally broke the silence he had maintained since his resignation on 3 February 1998. The ex-president said the authorities have "disgraced" Armenia by targeting Siradeghian. Since Ter-Petrossian did not speak out last December, when Siradeghian admitted that the 1996 presidential election was rigged to ensure Ter-Petrossian's second term, the former president may well see a danger for himself if his old comrade-in-arms goes on trial. In such a case, the former president may be held accountable for the actions of his former subordinate. And if the murder allegations proved true, the disgrace caused to Ter-Petrossian would cast a shadow on his seven years in power, which he believes was a period of sweeping reforms constituting an important chapter in the country's history.

Siradeghian's rise and fall epitomizes the outcome of those reforms. Touted as a promising fiction writer in the 1980s, Siradeghian joined the famous Karabakh committee that led the 1988 movement for the unification of Armenia and Nagorno- Karabakh. His role was confined to "friend-of-the-people" functions until, in 1992, he was appointed interior minister. He held that post until 1996, when he was named mayor of Yerevan. Siradeghian's supporters credit him with a successful fight against crime, which declined dramatically during his tenure. Yet that period was also characterized by the pervasive power of the police, which also spread to the economic sphere.

Siradeghian is believed to have made a huge personal fortune, of which his house in Yerevan (estimated to be worth $1 million) is the most conspicuous evidence. His flamboyant behavior and extravagant, contradictory, and often cynical discourse were apparently based on political calculations. For example, in the wake of the 1996 post-election unrest, he reportedly endorsed the release of an amateur video featuring a drunken party of "power" ministers (including himself) and generals who could be seen congratulating one another on having successfully engineered Ter-Petrossian's re-election. Armenians were thus given to understand that they cannot change their leadership through fair elections.

Regardless of whether the parliament gives the green light for criminal proceedings against Siradeghian, the political survival of the former interior minister now hangs in the balance. The author is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.


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